The midpoint Rest Day of the 2017 Dakar Rally is already a distant memory as racers are left fending for themselves on the fringes of the world’s largest salt flat in Uyuni, Bolivia. Stage Seven is the first half of this year’s marathon stage so every competitor still in the race spends tonight separated from their mechanics and any work needed on their machines must be performed solo.
Adding to the increased difficulty that comes with a marathon stage have been the extreme climatic conditions we have been experiencing in Bolivia. Heavy downpours of rain have played havoc with the course and a redesigned Stage Seven gave us a timed special stage of 161km over mostly sandy terrain. Taking a vantage point of the action today was windsurfing legend Robby Naish who after touring the Rest Day bivouac got to see those same machines unleashed over open country.
Naish had a firsthand look at one of the day’s most impressive performances as Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) upped his lead in the car category with a stage win. The 12-time Dakar champion increased his advantage over fellow Team Peugeot Total driver Sébastien Loeb (FRA) by 48 seconds with the difference between the two Frenchman in first and second overall now standing at a tantalising 1m57s.
Cyril Despres (FRA), the third Peugeot 3008 DKR driver, slips back to fourth overall after conceding nine minutes to Peterhansel on Stage Seven. Meanwhile, there was something to celebrate for Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) of Toyota Gazoo Racing who secured a podium finish on today’s stage behind Despres’ two Peugeot team-mates.
The bikes were first to tackle today’s route and opening the road was Sam Sunderland (GBR) of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. Despite a navigation hiccup 38 kilometres into the special the race leader was able to recover and maintains his position at the top of the general classification overnight. Sunderland’s team-mate Matthias Walkner (AUT) is also in with a shout of a podium finish with the Austrian biker in fifth place overall. Considering neither rider has ever completed an entire Dakar Rally their achievements to date have been mightily impressive.
Elsewhere in the race, local crowds were on their feet to cheer Bolivian biker Walter Nosiglia Jager who secured a Top 10 finish on the stage in his homeland.
A podium finish on today’s quad stage has kept Ignacio Casale (CHL) in contact with race leader Sergey Karyakin (RUS). Thanks to Casale arriving in Uyuni as the third quickest quad biker he now stands 16 minutes behind Karyakin who will open the road tomorrow.
An already shortened stage was reduced by a further 20km for the truck class due to the final part of the track proving impassable even for the Dakar’s biggest beasts. Defending champion Gerard De Rooy (NLD) once again reacted well to the Team Kamaz Master trio of Eduard Nikolaev (RUS), Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS) and Ayrat Mardeev (RUS) breathing down his neck. De Rooy keeps his overall lead despite Sotnikov’s stage win who now sits second overall with Nikolaev third and Mardeev fourth.
Competitors with sound mechanical knowhow will hope to be rewarded tomorrow on the second half of the marathon stage. The timed special stage will account for 492km of the total 892km to be covered on Tuesday. For the 255 of the 318 vehicles that started the first stage in Paraguay still in the race the next challenge is to safely reach the Salta bivouac after recrossing the border into Argentina.
Stéphane Peterhansel #300: It was small stage, but it was very interesting. There was a lot of navigation and it wasn’t easy. It was a little bit easier for me, because there were two cars in front of me and some tracks to follow, but we were doing good with the navigation already. There were some small dunes. They weren’t really complicated, but with the altitude we don’t have a lot of power. The overall classification is still very close, but it’s a really interesting race for everybody, I think. We’re still in the fight and that’s the most important thing.
Sébastien Loeb #309: It wasn’t a long stage, but it was quite complicated, with a lot of sand, dunes and navigation at the start. At the end, there was a lot of mud, with big water splashes in faster sections, so we had to be a bit careful, but it was OK and there is no problem with the car. There’s still a long way to go.
Sam Sunderland #14: It was a lot harder a stage than we were expecting there was a lot of navigation. All in all, it was OK. I lost some time today because it was a sandy stage and the guys from the back can see the tracks cleanly. The bike’s working well, the boys did a good job yesterday. I’m really happy with everything on the bike. It’s the first stage of the marathon day and the tyres are good so we’ll just keep ticking along. So far, so good.
Matthias Walkner #16: I wanted to have a good position for tomorrow and I’m pleased it has worked out like this. It was a short stage, but tricky with rough terrain and lots of navigation. We’re set for more difficult navigation this week so the goal is to stay in a good position just off the front. Avoiding mistakes will be the key.
Walter Nosiglia Jager #66: I’m happy to have completed another successful day at the Dakar. I rode a nice clean stage with few errors and the final result is very satisfying. We have plenty of tough days still to come and we’re just going to try our best to stay on the right track until the end.
Robby Naish: This event is insane. I know motorsport and I follow Formula One closely but I’ve not seen anything like this with a revolving venue that’s constantly moving. It’s a like a huge organic puzzle that has to be dismantled and put back together everyday in a different place. There’s just so many people and so many moving pieces that need to work in unison. It’s pretty amazing. Seeing the action today was impressive. It’s hard to get a complete idea of the enormity of the race when you’re watching one stage from a single location, but just imagining these guys doing this hour after hour and day and day shows what a super cool race this is. I loved seeing the bikes and cars go by, unluckily the timings didn’t give me the chance to see the big trucks.
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